Reflections from a Climate Scientist Navigating a Warming World - Shaina Sadai
Updated: May 11, 2021
A few feet away from me, a bee has fallen asleep inside a squash blossom. In the woods, I hear the squirrels chasing each other around a tree in a playful dance. It’s a gorgeous day with puffy clouds and a clear blue sky. I’m sitting at an outdoor table in my garden. From my laptop, I’m remotely logged into a supercomputer on the other side of the country. My screen is full of computer code, images of ocean temperatures, and the Antarctic Ice Sheet. The beautiful sky above me harbors an invisible issue: the atmosphere has been extensively altered over the past few hundred years, filled with greenhouse gases that are trapping heat. I’m trying to figure out how these past changes, and those yet to come, will impact the ice sheet and, in turn, how ice sheet changes will ripple outward, impacting the entire planet for hundreds of years to come.
Researching the climate crisis can be stressful on many levels. The work is challenging in and of itself—running models, doing calculations, analyzing data. And it is stressful to think of possibilities for the future that look anything but safe. When I run simulations of the climate I see pixels of data. Maybe this region will warm by this much. Maybe this place will have less rain. I’m looking at temperature, precipitation, elevation—but my mind always wanders, considering who lives there and how they’d be feeling if those pixels became the real conditions of the planet. Humans, animals, and plants will all be affected, though most aren’t responsible for causing the changes that got us here.
How did we even get to the point where I need to pursue a research question such as, What impact would a destabilization of the Antarctic Ice Sheet have on future global climate? It got to this point because of the systemic oppression that renders people, places, and the more-than-human world as disposable and extractable for the benefit of those who profit off their dispossession.
The climate crisis never really started with greenhouse gas emissions or an altered atmosphere. It started with oppression.
Dismantling the oppressive structures that led to the climate crisis is part of what I see as being my work, just as much as calculating ocean temperatures is as well as ice sheet extents. Taking action helps me. So I lobby my legislators, teach others, grow a garden, eat plants only, and take part in community organizing. I’ve found that there is always something constructive to work on. So I hold onto that. I think about the kind of future I want, and every day while I run my codes and do my calculations, I try to get a little closer to a world in which humans and animals live in communities built on equity and respect and without oppression.
That is what helps me. What helps you?
Shaina Sadai is a PhD Candidate at the Climate System Research Center in the Geosciences Department at UMass Amherst. Her research uses global climate models and regional ice models to understand how changes in the Antarctic Ice Sheet could impact future global climate as anthropogenic emissions increase. She also holds an MS in Applied Mathematics, BS in Astrophysics, and BS in Physics. She is a queer, chronically ill, first generation student who enjoys gardening, canoeing, eating vegan gluten-free cupcakes, and documenting the biodiversity in her local area.
Shaina can be reached at email@example.com